Thursday, 6 November 2014

Rant about How Mobile Phones Will Save the World

I may have just found the most effective environmental innovation of the century.  It’s called “pay as you go”.
We humans are lazy and indulgent.  We are comfort-seeking and prefer to close our eyes from all the inconvenient stuff, as that might make us feel guilty or even get off our fat bottoms and do something about it, heaven forbid.  Better not to notice, to silence that little nagging voice in our heads and think that the “climate change sceptics” might have a point,* and oh well, what could I do anyway.
But the one thing that motivates us is money.  Not money in general, OUR money.  We don’t want to spend too much of it, and we want to make more of it.  No human being in the history of the world has ever had too much money.
Our decisions are made based on a tug-of-war between our financial prudence (called also “stinginess” in less flattering terms) and our laziness.  Calculating the most efficient and cheap way can’t be too complicated or we give up.  So something that saves us money is only worth it if it is easy for us to understand how and why and how much it saves.
Enter pay as you go. 
Take the most obvious example, mobile phones.  Most of us have a contract that charges us a certain basic amount per month, and this includes often a number of calls, text messages and data transfer.  We like to kid ourselves into thinking that we got a good deal by telling everyone how many “free” minutes or “free” text messages we get with our phone deal, when of course the real answer is “zero”.  Those minutes and SMSs are not free but included in our contract, and probably we don’t even use them all, meaning that we end up paying for supposedly “free” stuff we don’t use.
I also had one of these contracts.  I congratulated myself on a good deal and sometimes called people just to use all my “free” minutes.  But then I went to Namibia and got a pay-as-you-go phone, which I fed with vouchers I bought from street vendors.  If I had to reload more than once a week, I felt I was spending too much money and began paying attention to my phone habits.  Yet my average weekly voucher was NAM 20, which amounts to about € 1.50.  Hand on your heart: how many of you, with your great phone deals, pay less than € 6 per month?
This could be rolled out to all kinds of stuff.  We also had pay-as-you-go electricity in Namibia, where we fed vouchers to the machine, which then ticked down the amounts at an alarming rate.  Apart from my refusal to let go of the heater that I carried around the house (I did get used to the cold at some point and stopped doing that…), it made us VERY conscious of the consumption of electricity.  Similarly, the washing machine in our building was fitted with a card system while we were away, and I can assure you that we pay much more attention to filling the machine up properly and reducing the number of loads we wash now that we see every time exactly how much it is costing us.**
So every house and every flat should move to pay-as-you-go electricity.  Could the same be done with gas and water?  I don’t see why not.  In a way cars already do this, but maybe the measuring could be done more explicitly, so that behind your wheel the meter is not telling you how much petrol you have left, but how much money you have just spent driving.  Same with restaurants.  My new favourite restaurant is a buffet where you pay by the weight of the food.  Makes you MUCH more conscious of how much stuff you're piling on your plate and thus reduces waste. 

I bet several other ideas have already popped to your heads while you’ve been reading.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how the world will be saved.  Or do you disagree?
*They do not.  Don’t be stupid.
**An arm and a leg, that’s how much.

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